Market Outlook: The Impact of the Convergence of Field Service and the Internet of Things

[Excerpt from our upcoming Feature Article in the April 2017 issue of Field Service News.]

There have been myriad times in recent years when a new technology seems to control the conversation in the business world – and, particularly, in the services sector. And, field service is typically one of the first areas where customers and users catch their first glimpse and initial understanding of what each of these “new” technologies can do for the industry. However, it usually takes a while longer before they truly understand what these new technologies can do specifically for their respective organisations.

Many of these new technologies enter the mainstream of the business world – and the global services community – after some initial fanfare, trade press, blogs, tweets and white papers, etc. However, most of them will actually take years to be fully accepted and deployed via a more staggered and drawn-out basis over a lengthy period of time. For example, 10 to 15 years ago, RFIDs were all the rage, with seemingly every article and white paper talking about the potential use of RFIDs for everything from tracking parts shipments, to identifying personal items that consumers send to the dry cleaner for laundering.

The evolution of RFIDs, however, was fairly steady to the point of almost being modestly linear over the next decade and a half. But, fast forward to 2017, and Tesla Inc. founder and CEO, Elon Musk, has recently announced the formation a new company, Neuralink Corp., which The Wall Street Journal describes as a “medical research” company that plans to build technology “through which computers could merge with human brains”, essentially using embedded chips to upload and download thoughts directly from humans. In less than a couple of decades, RFIDs went from the “talk of the town”; to a backdrop of steady (albeit non-glitzy) market adoption and deployment; to a virtual science fiction-like catalyst between the technology of today and the advanced future.

That is why the introduction and accelerating proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) in field service is such a big deal. Because, as most industry analysts tend to agree, the projected growth path for the full integration and convergence of the IoT into the global services community – particularly in field service – are stunning!

[Watch for the complete article, including findings from SFG‘s 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, in the April 2017 issue of Field Service News. I’ll also be presenting some toppling data as part of my opening Keynote at the 2017 Field Service Summit in Coventry, UK, on April 11, 2017.]

Building Your FSM Solution on an IoT-Powered and CRM-based Platform

[Excerpt from our upcoming Feature Article in the March/April 2017 issue of Field Technologies Online.]

According to Gartner, the “IoT is not one thing; it’s the integration of several things,” requiring “advanced integration skills and end-to-end thinking.” As such, Gartner makes it quite clear that the IoT, alone, does not make field service operations work. There are still many other aspects of Field Service Management that must be addressed – although the IoT, as it stands today, is eminently ready to serve as the foundation of the FSM platform.

However, to truly benefit from an IoT-based FSM solution, the organization must also meet some key requirements that reflect its readiness for utilizing the power of the IoT in a connected FSM application. It may also be argued that there could be no servitization without the IoT; and that there could be no complete FSM solution without its integration with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform. Only in this way, could the FSM solution work together – in concert – with each of the other components of the CRM system to manage and run all aspects of the business itself – and not just its services operations.

[Watch for the complete article, including preliminary results from SFG‘s 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, in the March/April 2017 issue of Field Technologies Online.]

Real Time May Not Be Enough When Augmented Reality Can Make It Even More Real!

[This is the full, unedited, version of our Feature Article published in the April 21, 2016 edition of Field Technologies Online. The Blog version includes portions that did not make the publication’s final cut.]

Augmented reality may just be the “next big thing” in field service.

It hasn’t really been all that long since the field services community was introduced to the concept of “real time”. Prior to the introduction of real-time data collection, analysis and dissemination, most Field Services Organizations (FSOs) typically relied on batch-collected and -processed data; generally obtained from multiple sources, over an extended period of time; with data often read and input by hand into numerous paper templates; and having to wait for the proper review and approval before the processed data could be distributed to relevant parties.

Fortunately, those days are long-gone!

The proliferation of the application of the Internet; the advent of machine-to-machine (m2m) communications and the Internet of Things (IoT); and the exponentially growing degree of connectivity between not only machines and machines, but between machines and people – and people and people – has resulted in a real-time environment that has propelled the global services community to its current technological positioning.

However, real time may no longer be good enough for the global community of FSOs and their respective field technicians! As traditional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), such as Mean-Time Between-Failure (MTBF), have steadily shifted from measurements reported in numbers of days, weeks or months just a couple of decades ago, to practically “never” today for many products, this particular metric finds itself diminishing in importance, and is no longer being measured by a growing number of services organizations. And even when equipment is about to fail, the easy availability of predictive diagnostics, remote diagnostics and real-time communications have made this formerly important KPI nothing more than an afterthought for many FSOs.

This is where Augmented Reality, or AR, comes into play.

According to whatis.techtarget.com, “Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.” Think of the “yellow first down line” that magically appears when you’re watching a football game; that’s AR, in that it doesn’t create a “new” virtual reality, but, rather, it enhances the perceptual reality that you, the viewer, is able to visualize while watching the next down take place. It’s not a new creation; it’s an enhanced reality that makes it easier to process what’s going on, and what needs to be done next.

This is exactly how AR is able to assist in a field services environment; that is, to provide the field technician (who may not ever have been called upon to service a piece of equipment with such a long MTBF) to actually perform the repair by “overlaying” an enhanced reality – in 3D motion – over and above what he or she would otherwise be able to visualize, in order to make a quick, clean and complete fix.

Think of it this way: When field technicians are called on for service, they may be facing either a piece of equipment that they have rarely seen in the past; a device that is inherently complex and difficult to disassemble and/or reassemble; or a system that is so business- or mission-critical, that a single delay or misstep could bring a factory’s total production line to a screaming halt – or any combination thereof!

The ability to “see” this Augmented Reality – in 3D motion – with accompanying instructive text, metrics and repair parameters overlaid and easily articulated will undoubtedly provide, at the very least, an extra measure of comfort to the technician, as well as access to a readily available tutorial for performing the repair as quickly, accurately and safely as possible. As such, another historically important KPI, first-time-fix-rate, may also go quickly into the twilight, same as MTBF! And all it takes is the appropriate pair of special glasses for the technician to “see” what needs to be seen!

However, talking about Augmented Reality – rather than actually seeing it in action – is like trying to tell a Southerner how cold the Northern Winters are – in words. It’s just not possible. That’s why AR is best understood by actually seeing a demonstration of it in action.

At a recent field services conference, I was asked to cite what I believe would be the “next big thing” in field service. I suggested “Augmented Reality”. Why? Because we really can’t do things any quicker than real time; and we can’t make repair tutorials any smaller, more compact and/or transportable than they already are. What we can do, however, is make it easier for the field technician to “see” what needs to be done, in real time, and with an “augmented” view of what reality alone cannot, and does not, necessarily provide.

AR has already made it easier to follow – and understand – football games. Isn’t time that it was also used to make it easier to perform field service activities? The answer is resoundingly “Yes”!

Real Time May Not Be Enough When Augmented Reality Can Make It Even More Real!

[Excerpted portion of our Feature Article published in the April 21, 2016 edition of Field Technologies Online]

Augmented reality may just be the “next big thing” in field service.

It hasn’t really been all that long since the field services community was introduced to the concept of “real time.” Prior to the introduction of real-time data collection, analysis, and dissemination, most field service organizations (FSOs) typically relied on batch-collected and processed data generally obtained from multiple sources over an extended period of time together with data often read and input by hand into numerous paper templates so they had to wait for the proper review and approval before the processed data could be distributed to relevant parties. Fortunately, those days are long gone!

Field Service Methods And Measurements Are Changing

However, real time may no longer be good enough for the global community of FSOs and their respective field technicians. As traditional KPIs (key performance indicators), such as Mean-Time Between-Failure (MTBF), have steadily shifted from measurements reported in numbers of days, weeks, or months just a couple of decades ago to practically “never” today for many products, this particular metric finds itself diminishing in importance and is no longer being measured by a growing number of service organizations. And even when equipment is about to fail, the easy availability of predictive diagnostics, remote diagnostics, and real-time communications has made this formerly important KPI nothing more than an afterthought for many FSOs.

This is where augmented reality (AR) comes into play. According to whatis.techtarget.com, “Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.” Think of the “yellow first-down line” that magically appears when you’re watching a football game; that’s AR, in that it doesn’t create a “new” virtual reality, but, rather, enhances the perceptual reality that you, the viewer, are able to visualize while watching the next down take place. It’s not a new creation; it’s an enhanced reality that makes it easier to process what’s going on and what needs to be done next.

[To read the full Feature Article, please visit the Field Technologies Online Website at: http://www.fieldtechnologiesonline.com/doc/when-is-real-time-not-enough-when-augmented-reality-makes-it-even-more-real-0001?atc%7Ec=771%20s%3D773%20r%3D001%20l%3Da&utm_content=33205462&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.]